The Legacy Synthetics page describes some examples of earlier versions of high-end sports synthetics and outdoor synthetics, and some of their limitations. Anyone who is a sports or outdoor enthusiast has legacy synthetics, and due to their durability and our environmental consciousness we try to make them work for us as long as they are able to (or as long as we can stand them). The Legacy Synthetics page also introduces some of the benefits which would be gained by augmenting your legacy array or by replacing one or more layers with current synthetics or Merino wool.

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Layering Index



Base Layers: Synthetic and Merino

Field Shirts, Pants, and Outerwear

Legacy Synthetics

Summary and Recommendations

Product Descriptions

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Legacy Synthetics

Due to the durability of well-built synthetic materials, they tend to last for quite a while, and the ones which work well tend to stay with us until they are no longer usable. Depending on the design, they tend to work best in different positions within the layering structure, and as most people who spend time in natural environments are also environmentally conscious, we tend to want to maintain use of petroleum-based synthetics for as long as they are of service to conserve resources (and to save money). This section will outline some methods for best making use of legacy synthetics along with one or more current products acquired for the purpose of making your kit more efficient, flexible and easier to live with.

One of the most commonly discussed issues with legacy synthetics is their tendency to build up odor. Because of this most of us have acquired several sets over time to allow us to replace layers once the odor became objectionable. The ones closest to the skin usually end up being replaced first, and this gives us our first indication as to how a current product could be added to improve the kit. Current synthetics make use of antimicrobial treatments to reduce the buildup of odor, and Merino wool is naturally resistant to odor buildup.

Another issue is that those of us who visit areas with wide temperature ranges have found that it is best to use a larger number of lighter layers rather than fewer heavy layers, as it makes it easier to maintain a comfortable body temperature by adding or removing layers as well as giving us more options for areas with different temperature ranges. The downside to this is that due to the odor buildup issue, you would have to carry a number of changes in your pack to replace objectionable layers. Some products are more effective at regulating body temperature than others, allowing us to use fewer layers across a wider range of temperatures. This gives us another area where a product could be added to improve the kit.


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A bull elk poses at the top of a hill with cows and a juvenile at dawn in northern Yellowstone.

Use of Legacy Synthetics

The legacy synthetics I have were fairly carefully chosen at the time of purchase, but as has happened to everyone, I still ended up with some which were disappointing for one reason or another. The ones I am outlining below are those which survived the culling process and are still in use.

The most critical aspect of maintaining comfort is moving moisture away from the skin (wicking). The best wicking top of the legacy synthetics I have is the Patagonia Capilene 3 midweight 1/4-Zip, but the interior surface of that top is not comfortable when worn next to the skin, so I always wore it with one or two layers underneath. The Capilene 3 top would suck out moisture from the layers below leaving them dry. This tremendous wicking ability is why I always carried the Capilene 3 even though it was not comfortable next to the skin, requiring that I carry tops to use below it. The legacy synthetics I own which have the best feel next to the skin are the Nike Dri-Fit Crew, the North Face 1/4-Zip, UA HeatGear T-shirt, and the REI midweight Crew (actually a lightweight), in that order. Manufacturers often label their products relative to others in their line, and a midweight from one manufacturer could be very similar in weight to a lightweight from another. It can sometimes be confusing.

The favored core layer was the Nike Dri-Fit Crew, and I have two of these to allow me to replace one after a day or two when the odor became objectionable. The Nike is quite warm when you are active (losing body heat rapidly when you stop moving), so if I was going to be in an area with milder temperatures, I would use the UA HeatGear T-shirt instead of the Nike. The REI was acquired as a spare for use when the second Nike or the UA T-shirt was retired. The high ribbed neck of the Capilene 3 is also mildly irritating to my skin after a time, so if I was going to be using it in colder weather where the neck would be zipped up for long periods, I would wear it as the third layer, with the North Face zip-neck under it. The North Face became the core layer once the Nikes and REI were retired. I would top these with the Nike Dri-Fit 1/4-zip as the top layer below the insulation layers and/or outerwear. I had to use three or four synthetic base layers because of the thermal regulation characteristics of the synthetics. They were warm when you were active, but lost heat rapidly once you stopped moving.


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Gibbon Falls at Yellowstone National Park in late April.
Spring comes late to Wyoming at an 8000 foot altitude.


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The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the
Lower Falls, from Artist Point in late winter.

In colder conditions or when I stopped moving, I would add the Under Armour Catalyst Crew or UA Sherpa Fleece hoodie as an insulation layer. In very cold conditions I would use both. The UA hoodie replaced a less effective insulating hoodie a few years ago. Atop these would be the outerwear: either the Marmot ROM hooded softshell or the Mountain Hardwear hardshell. The Marmot softshell would be used most often when I was not carrying the UA Sherpa Fleece hoodie, and the Mountain Hardwear hardshell would be used when I was carrying the UA Sherpa Fleece (or the earlier hoodie).

The situation for bottoms is quite similar, but I do not carry changes for bottom layers (changing underwear instead). I used to use a Thermasilk layer next to the skin, but they only lasted two seasons, so I replaced them with the Patagonia Capilene 1 silkweight bottoms, which have lasted for over 10 years. They are used in mild-to-warm conditions alone, or along with the Terramar 2 midweight bottoms in colder conditions. In very cold conditions I add the REI Polartec 100 Teton Fleece pants. For underwear, I would most often use the Ex Officio boxers and boxer briefs (which get uncomfortable as the temperature rises, but which dry fast after rinsing).

I would have to be prepared to be able to stand in place for a significant period of time at low temperatures while waiting for or shooting wildlife, waiting for dawn, etc. after a period of exertion to get into place, and need to carry a kit which would keep me from becoming chilled. This requires a number of layers at low temperatures, especially if the layers are inefficient. In situations when I was going to be in very cold areas I would have to carry quite a number of layers (along with a few changes) and use a large pack. If you acquired one or more layers which were more adept at regulating body temperature and/or less likely to build up odor, you could reduce the number of layers required in various situations, reduce or eliminate the need for carrying changes, and use a smaller pack.

Evaluate your legacy synthetics based upon next-to-skin comfort, wicking ability, and thermal regulation effectiveness and decide which ones are best and in which layering order, then move on to the next section.

Augmenting or replacing Legacy Synthetics

Based upon the outline above, you can see that the core and mid base layers make up the largest number I carry. If I could improve the next-to-skin comfort, wicking ability, and thermal regulation effectiveness of these layers I could reduce the number I would have to carry, and if I could reduce the tendency towards odor buildup I could eliminate the need to carry changes. The result would be less layers required for the same performance and flexibility and I could use a smaller pack.

Rather than presume to be able to tell you how to augment or replace parts of your kit, which I know nothing about, instead what I am going to do is give you guidelines and lead you to the following section, which discusses the use and application of current Synthetic and Merino base layers, including heavyweight base layers which can double as insulation layers (and lightweight garments which can function as insulation layers yet still breathe extremely well and function as base layers).

Many people (like me) who have acquired a number of layers which we are loath to retire due to their continued functionality go several years before exploring the innovations in outdoor materials technology. Those who have not altered their synthetic layers for several years are in for a surprise. While some fabrics have changed incrementally, addressing a few issues such as next to skin comfort, others are radically different in concept. The Patagonia Capilene 4 Hoody is an example. This is an extremely lightweight garment that is categorized as expedition weight due to its ability to keep you very warm when used as an insulation layer, but it breathes exceptionally well and when used alone or with a light layer below, it allows enough air through the fabric to both warm and cool the skin — a unique approach to temperature regulation.

As mentioned above, the typical legacy synthetic offers less than optimal temperature regulation, thus you typically have to use a number of layers to maintain warmth after activity stops, and because the legacy synthetics either did not use an antimicrobial treatment or used early versions of these treatments which tended to deteriorate over time, the garments would generally build up odor if used for more than one or two days, necessitating the need to carry changes, which take up pack space. Current synthetics use a very effective permanent antimicrobial treatment, and Merino wool is naturally resistant to odor.

For instance, I tested the WoolX T-shirt by wearing it for five consecutive days which ranged between 85 and 90 degrees in the hotter part of the day (55 to 60 in the cooler part), with medium to low activity levels. I was just barely able to detect an odor on the morning of the fifth day, although by the hottest part of the day it was beginning to become objectionable. The odor after five days of consecutive wear was significantly less than after two hours of wearing the Under Armour HeatGear legacy synthetic. This issue can be dismissed with the use of Merino.

When testing the current Patagonia synthetics, I used the Capilene 1 T-shirt and the innovative Capilene 4 hoody at 80 degrees. Several hours of sweating during medium activity levels does build an odor, but far less than the stench I am unfortunately used to with legacy synthetics. A quick rinse and dry, and the odor is reduced to barely detectable. After another sweaty session, the odor accumulates and again the garment is rinsed and dried. Each time this is done the odor is a little more noticeable. You can continue this for three to five days of use before the odor becomes objectionable. Polygiene and other antimicrobial treatments applied to current synthetics reduce the odor problem significantly, but they do not approach the odor resistance of Merino.


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The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Lower Falls from Artist Point in late April.

Thus, one thing you might want to consider is adding either a Merino or current synthetic layer which offers significantly better temperature regulation to replace two of your currently used synthetics (and changes required to replace those retired due to odor buildup). This would reduce your pack load by three or four synthetics and give you better heat regulation as well.

Another option which would both improve the efficiency and heat regulation of a legacy array is to add a Merino top to go between two synthetic tops as an insulating layer, which will lower the lowest effective temperature of the array and widen the usable temperature range. This is quite effective and possibly the most improvement which can be made for the least cost.

As an example of improved heat regulation, I took out a typical legacy synthetic array for medium activity in 50-80 degree weather: the Nike Dri-Fit Crew, Patagonia Capilene 3 high-neck 1/4-zip, and Nike Dri-Fit 1/4-zip. By the time the temperature had risen to 63 degrees I had removed the Nike 1/4-zip. At 72 degrees I was down to a light-colored Nike Dri-Fit Crew, which was a bit uncomfortable in direct sunlight by the time it reached 80 degrees, although it was fine in the shade. I repeated the test the next day with the WoolX Merino T-shirt and X507 midweight 1/4-zip, starting at 53 degrees and rising to 82. I kept both on the entire time, and was comfortable until the temperature reached 80 in direct sunlight, when it became a bit warm. I repeated the test again the following day, carrying a light-colored field shirt with me on a day which reached 90. At 85 I had had enough, and although it was still fine when I was in the shade, I put on the light-colored field shirt to reflect the sunlight and continued light hiking and climbing until it reached 90.

This was just a test, of course. It was warm from the time it reached 80, and even under the field shirt at 85 it was still pretty warm. Normally, for medium activity I would strip down to the T-shirt and put on the field shirt (if I didn't already have it on) at about 65-70 degrees. The other thing to consider is that the two Merino layers would be good for medium activity down into the low-40s, while the legacy synthetic array would require another layer for the same level of comfort, and the Merino would still be reasonably comfortable at that temperature when you stop to rest, although you would very likely add at least a midweight layer (even the extended synthetic array would require adding a heavier layer to avoid being chilled, like an insulating hoodie).

As another example of improved heat regulation, the combination of the Patagonia Capilene 1, Capilene 2 and Capilene 3 tops and the Capilene 4 Hoody will go from the low 40s to 75 degrees as a group (although I would generally remove the Capilene 3 top at about 65 degrees). Removing the Capilene 2 and 3 tops and replacing the Capilene 4 Hoody will take the combination of T-shirt and Hoody to 80 or 90 degrees (I have the chartreuse hoody which reflects direct sunlight very effectively and captures every vestige of breeze, keeping you cool). From 80-90 degrees to well over 100, the Capilene 1 T-shirt would do the job, although I would cover it with a field shirt to reflect sunlight, improve wicking, and provide UV protection (and pockets).

The next section details usage of current synthetic and Merino base layers,
including light and heavy base layers which can double as insulation layers.


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